The climate crisis is a dangerous reality for Young People

The climate crisis is real. Human activity is causing our planet to warm at an alarming and unprecedented rate. More greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere than ever before in human history, sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 2,000 years, ice sheets are shrinking and temperatures are rising around the world. In Australia, our last summer was the hottest on record and we face the reality of a collapse in coral reef systems, more frequent droughts and an increase in the severity and occurrence of catastrophic bush fires.

These devastating changes will severely impair the lives and prosperity of today’s young people and will occur during their lifetime. If human activity and emissions continue at the current rate, temperatures in Australia are expected to rise to dangerous levels as early as 2030. Without action to prevent the climate crisis, a young person who is 12 years old today will only be 24 years old when the overwhelming impact of these changes become a reality.

A dire future for young people in the absence of action

Young people face a significantly diminished future as a direct result of the climate crisis. Young people’s lives will be threatened and they will face severely reduced health outcomes. The climate crisis will result in greater mortality and serious injury due to extreme weather. There will be an increased risk of contracting diseases and the food supply will be significantly affected, resulting in food shortages and poorer nutrition. Pollution will lead to a reduction in air quality, directly threatening cardiovascular and respiratory health. Young people will witness the death of the Great Barrier Reef and will share the land with fewer species of animals following mass extinctions during their lifetime. Young people’s future and quality of life is at risk.

Young people will experience worse mental health as a direct result of the climate crisis and this will more severely affect marginalised young people. There is a direct association between temperature increases and suicide rates in Australia and evidence indicates that young people are experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to uncertainty about the future of the planet. Young people have the most to lose if real action is not taken to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.

These changes will occur in the near future if no climate action is taken and will result in substantially worse lives for the current generation of young people. It is unjust for young people to inherit a future reality that is so inferior than that afforded to generations before them. Even without the effects of the climate crisis, the current generation of young people are likely to be the first in modern history to have lower living standards than their parents. Australians have previously taken pride in providing a better future for the next generation. However, without action to prevent the climate crisis, the current adult population will be directly responsible for the worst decline in quality of life between successive generations in Australian history.

Can we still prevent the climate crisis?

There are solutions that will allow a better future for young people and prevent the worst of the climate crisis. We must implement policies that will prevent carbon emissions and other pollution to avoid the worst of the projected climate damage. However, there is limited time. We must act now to achieve this.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we have just over a decade to halve our emissions to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change. This will require Australia to significantly reduce our coal exports, lower domestic emissions and contribute to global policies to reduce the factors that are contributing to the crisis.

The policies that we implement in Australia have a direct and significant effect at the global level. Australia is the third biggest exporter of fossil fuels in the world and is therefore the source of a significant proportion of the emissions that are causing the climate crisis. This means that the Australian Government has the power and the opportunity to substantially reduce the severity of climate damage by minimising the development and exportation of Australia’s coal reserves. This would help prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis and position Australia as a global leader in securing the future for young people.

School students holding sign which says "I've seen smarter cabinets at IKEA"

Photo of school students striking for climate change by Andy Noonan featured on the ABC

Government must work with Young People

The current Australian Government is yet to establish a formal mechanism to work with young people. This means that young people – who have the most to lose and will suffer the greatest consequences of the climate crisis – do not have a seat at the table and are prevented from contributing to the most important decisions of all our lifetimes. Processes to agree on these policies need young people’s voices, because they will ultimately determine their quality of life, health and wellbeing. Policies and actions to avert the climate crisis will determine the future that they will inherit. Young people must have a say in their own future.

Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) calls on the Australia Government to implement a genuine youth participation strategy that values young people’s rights, perspectives and expertise. YACVic further calls on the Government to commit to working with young people to co-design solutions to prevent the climate crisis and secure their future.

Young people are demanding change

Young people in Australia are now rightfully demanding action by politicians and business leaders to prevent the climate crisis and ensure a better future. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and the School Strike for Climate (SS4C) are movements led by diverse young people from all parts of Australia who recognise that timely action is critical to protect the planet.

Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) supports the AYCC and the SS4C and shares their vision for a just and sustainable world with a safe climate for this generation and future generations. YACVic also supports the demands of the SS4C for Australian leaders to:

  1. Prevent new coal, oil and gas projects
  2. Transition to renewable energy by 2030
  3. Fund a transition and job creation program for all fossil-fuel workers and communities

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[16] Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990)